Reaching for Eternity

Prologue: Fire and Ice

Strictly speaking, the garden was impossible. Located in a small room with no visible windows, it was nonetheless filled with warm sunlight. Flowers of all colors bloomed in the planters set around the edges of the room and even more hung down from the ceiling above. In the center of this floral paradise was a small round table, around which four girls sat drinking tea.

"We should attack them now! This is the perfect opportunity to wipe them out for good!" The girl's red eyes seemed to glow with an inner fire, her voice shattering the peace of the garden. "The blue one is dead; Akemi hasn't left her apartment in days. Only Tomoe and Sakura are active now. There will never be a better time to strike. No more hiding here in the industrial district, slinking around like rats. We deserve to control the city, not Tomoe's band of do-gooders!"

She slammed the coffee table with both hands, the impact rattling the delicate tea set. The untouched cup before her nearly spilled its contents across the table.

From next to the angry redhead a hand darted out to steady the piece of china. She redhead glanced at the hand's owner, the other girl's ice-blue eyes unreadable behind her similarly colored bangs.

Turning her gaze to the other side of the table, she met the eyes of the remaining two people at the table. One pair—clear and aquamarine—was as unreadable as the bluenette's. The other pair, in contrast, showed their owner's emotions plainly. Sulfur orange, their burning gaze bored into the redhead, causing her to flinch back involuntarily. The redhead forced herself to look back towards the platinum haired one her outburst had been directed towards and the leader of the foursome: Mikuni Oriko.

Oriko took a sip of her tea, pausing to set the cup down and brush away an errant strand of platinum hair. "We will not be attacking Tomoe-san's group." She paused as if considering new information. "Also, please keep your voice down, Aina; Yuma-chan is asleep." She calmly took another sip of her tea.

Hinata Aina tamped down her temper. It was hard, always so hard. But the two across the table from her were the only people she not only feared, but respected. Well, she respected Oriko; she simply feared Kirika. She glanced down as a cool hand touched the back of her own. The cold touch helped her reign in the fires of her temper. Flipping her hand over Aina entwined her warm fingers with the cool ones of Miroko Mikuru. She squeezed her hand slightly, her blue-haired lover responded in kind.

Pausing to take a deep breath, she looked directly at Oriko. "Are we just going to sit here and stew? Wait for Akemi to pull herself together and Tomoe to recruit another one of her paladins?" She studiously ignored Kure Kirika's dark glare. Kirika wouldn't do anything without Oriko's permission and looks couldn't kill...generally. The platinum blonde sighed slightly, and then crossed her legs, leaning back a bit in her chair.

"No, we will not just be sitting here. In point of fact, this is a perfect opportunity." Oriko's lips formed a slight smile, her voice taking on an unmistakably smug tone. "I have a mission for you and Mikuru, one I think you will both thoroughly enjoy."

Miasma filled the town's small business district, filling the streets with a dense vision obscuring fog. The buildings here struggled to reach ten stories, absolutely nothing compared to the glass and steel behemoths of nearby Mitakihara. However this was their city, their home, and it needed to be defended as if it were one of Japan's grand metropolises.

Within the miasma, towering forms appeared. They looked to be human, if human heads brushed the fourth floor of buildings broke apart into cubical pieces floating into the air above them. The figures raised their arms, hands outstretched, and beams of light shot from each fingertip piercing through the fog to targets unseen. Moment later the giants began to silently crumple and dissolve. The hunters had arrived. The giants fell—one after another—leaving behind nothing but scattered black cubes to show they ever even existed.

"Is that the last of them?" The leader of the hunters took stock of the situation.

A girl in a green dress, two katana crossed on her back landed next to her on the rooftop. "Looks like it, busy night tonight."

Two more girls bounded up. "The miasma is dissipating and we've gathered all the grief cubes."

"Alright then, let's cleanse our gems and go ho..." a massive spear of ice burst from her chest, cutting off whatever else she was going to say. It happened so suddenly, so unexpectedly, so horribly, that her friends were paralyzed in shock. Perhaps if one had acted faster what was about to happen could have been prevented, but now it was too late. The ice spear vanished, leaving behind a hole six inches across. Blood spilled from the wound and spurted from the girl's mouth, choking her. She began to collapse but before her body ever hit the ground it vanished, dissolving into motes of light. Their leader's death jolted the remaining trio out of their shocked paralysis, but their fates were already sealed.

"Girls! Is this really the best you can do!?" A maniacal voice boomed, the source right behind the shocked magical girls. Hinata Aina reached out with lightning speed and grabbed the neck of the girl holding the grief cubes. "Sorry, but we'll be taking those!" The girl burst into flames, her skin cracking and turning black within moments. But as with her leader before, her Soul Gem, already nearly dark, gave out before her physical body, and she too vanished into light, the gathered grief cubes clattering to the ground.

The third girl managed to draw her weapon, but as a long-ranged fighter she was at a severe disadvantage. She got off a few wild shots with her pistol, but they were deflected by the ice-shield Mikuru generated. Dissipating the shield, the ice-mage materialized a pair of ice swords and with two quick slashes she disarmed the gunner—literally—then buried both swords to the hilt in the girl's chest. Just like her two friends before her, the critically wounded magical girl dissolved into light. Mikuru looked around for the fourth girl. "Aina," Mikuru called for her partner, but the fire mage had already noticed and was bounding off after the last of their prey. As Aina reached the edge of the building she leapt into the air, flames igniting beneath her feet.

"So showy," Mikuru deadpanned as she began to gather up the scattered grief cubes.

Yoshino couldn't sleep. After the roller-coaster ride of the last three months, her life was finally starting to pull itself back together. Things weren't perfect, of course. She was almost certainly not going to get any alone time with Yuka anytime in the foreseeable future and the marriage provision in her Grandfather's will still hung over her like Damocles' Sword. However, at least Yuka was no longer confined to her home when not at school and it appeared that her parents have given up on the idea of marrying her off. Yoshino rolled over in her bed and checked the time. 0500. She had to be up in barely two hours anyway for the first day of high school, so there was no point in trying to get back to sleep.

Her mind continued to wander through the events of the past winter. In the space of little more than a week her life had exploded, but even if things weren't completely perfect now, they had improved dramatically. A few ideas for dealing with the marriage issue were already percolating in her head. She and Yuka had decided that they were not going to give up on having a relationship, even if it meant waiting till they were both 20 and had their majority. Their families would just have to deal with having lesbians for daughters. She knew her mother—her head servant, not the woman who merely birthed her—understood this by now even if she still was less than thrilled. The rest of her servants' responses ranged from enthusiastic acceptance (one of the kitchen assistants was very supportive when he found out) to grudging acknowledgement, but no one had quit, and no one shunned her. That had been one of her greatest fears: that her servants, her family, would turn against her. She knew her friends would be supportive, especially after the situation with Chiaki, Touma and Makoto the year before, but it had still terrified her to the bone.

Placing her hands behind her head, she stared up at her ceiling, not that she could see it in the nearly pitch-black room. She really wished Yuka were with her. She closed her eyes and began to imagine being with Yuka, when she was startled by a crash from her balcony. Rolling out of bed, she paused before opening her curtains. What if it was something dangerous? She quickly shook the thought aside. Her room was on the second floor and well away from any trees. Pulling the curtain open, she peered through the glass door. The villa was away from the city's lights, leaving just the starlight to illuminate the scene outside. Dimly she could tell that something had landed on the balcony, slamming into her patio set in the process. Flipping on the bedside light, she unlatched the doors and stepped outside. She shivered from the cool early-spring night air, but all thoughts of the temperature vanished as the smell hit her nose, and she saw just what had smashed up her furniture. Like burned meat, the smell was coming from a person lying in the debris of one of the patio chairs.

"Hey, are you alright?" Kneeling next to the girl, the meaninglessness of that question curdled in her mind, as she was very clearly not "alright". Her clothing, or what remained of it, was some sort of green dress, but so much of it was either burned black or missing entirely that Yoshino couldn't tell what it originally looked like. One hand was gripping a katana, while her other hand was...Yoshino realized that what she thought was shadows was actually an entire side of the girl burned black. The girl's left arm simply stopped at the elbow. The hand holding the sword relaxed, the weapon clanking as it hit the floor. Yoshino grabbed the girl's hand. "Hold on, I'll get help. Just..."

"No...It's..." her voice was almost inaudible, Yoshino leaned in closer. "'s too late...for...for me." The girl gasped for breath. "They...they're too strong...tell To..." Yoshino never learned what and who she needed to tell for in the most unbelievable event yet—the girl vanished, leaving Yoshino grasping at a few motes of green light. Even the katana the girl had been holding was gone.

Yoshino reached up and pinched her cheek, hard. It wasn't a dream. But if it wasn't a dream, what had just happened? Was she delusional? The adrenaline she hadn't even realized had kicked in suddenly shut off, and with it gone, she started to shiver. Coming down from the high, her mind raced. Should she get her mother? What would she tell her? She'd think she was crazy. No, best to just leave it for now and investigate later. Shakily she rose to her feet, turned and entered her room. Crawling onto her bed, she wrapped herself in her blanket, arms around her legs, head on her knees. The image of the girl's ruined face floated before her, even when she closed her eyes. Sleep never returned for Yoshino that night.

Unnoticed, a figure watched it all from a tree a hundred yards or so from Yoshino's balcony. Hinata Aina licked her lips in anticipation; she'd have to keep an eye on this little rich girl. Leaping into the air, flames appeared beneath her feet, rocketing her into the distance in a moment. She'd have time to deal with the girl later; now it was time for some 'relaxation' with Mikuru.

The forest around the Yoshino manor was still once again, but on the branch Hinata Aina had occupied, a small white creature with unblinking red eyes emerged from the shadows. Dwelling on regrets was a human failing; the Incubator felt no such emotions. The losses tonight were unfortunate and so no time could be wasted in procuring replacements.

A/N: Thanks to voynix for proofing the chapter!